The benefits of parks on our mental health, happiness, IQ… and the environment by Paula Bernardino

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It’s thanks to the long walks and readings breaks in parks that I was able to get through the anxiety from the pandemic. It has now become a habit of mine, especially on Fridays. That is why I really enjoyed reading this article published in the Montreal Gazette August 18: Parks more important than ever during pandemic. I couldn’t agree more on importance of parks. « Think tank poll found 82 per cent of respondents said parks were crucial to their mental health during the coronavirus crisis. »

I am so grateful to have discovered so many beautiful parks in Montreal. And it’s been so fun to see so many people rediscover their local parks during the pandemic. I saw family barbecues happening in parks, I saw birthday celebrations and I even saw a wedding being celebrated in a park.

Also in August I came across another interesting article, this time in Euro News, that highlighted the results of a study in Belgium that found that “children raised in greener environments have higher IQs” (Growing up in green spaces boosts children’s IQs, claims study). The study showed that “just a three per cent increase in the greenness of a child’s neighbourhood raised their IQ score by 2.6 points on average”. Isn’t this a great argument to push for more greening urban spaces?

And not only are parks and green spaces beneficial for our mental health and IQ, but also for the environment. An article in National Geographic in May 2019 mentioned that as cities across the U.S. are seeing worse floods and hotter summers, experts believe urban parks can help residents cope. “As cities increasingly feel the impacts of rising seas and temperatures, city planners are rethinking the roles of urban parks” (As the climate crisis worsens, cities turn to parks). Especially in cities with a lot of asphalt that collect heat, those neighbourhoods need the cooling effect of green spaces. “Parks can ultimately provide a sort of social resilience, in addition to cooling neighbourhoods and absorbing floodwater.” And as Diane Regas, CEO of The Trust for Public Land beautifully expresses: “Parks are an example of what we in the environmental advocacy community need to do to embrace solutions that simultaneously address climate change and make people’s lives better.”

In her article Urban greening is better for citizens and fights climate change also published in May 2019 (so before COVID-19), Heather Alberro (LSE), Associate Lecturer and PhD Candidate in Political Ecology from Nottingham Trent University, also connected these dots writing “Urban greenery wouldn’t just help lessen the impacts of climate change and improve air quality. Evidence from a range of disciplines has uncovered numerous social, psychological, and health benefits of human exposure to green spaces. These include stress and anxiety reduction, improved cognitive functioning, lowered risks of depression, and overall greater mental and physical wellbeing.”

As a Climate Reality ambassador I always mention the importance of parks and green spaces in my presentations. I am lucky to only live 5 minutes away from the McGill campus, which is one of my favourite green spots in town. And what a difference to go through it on a hot sticky day during a heat wave – the cooling effect is instant!

I encourage people to get involved in their local neighbourhood greening actions. The city of Montreal is lucky to have many green alleyway programs, which citizens can initiate with the support of their borough: see Green alleyways for more information.

Every borough also has an “éco-quartier” whose mission is to improve the quality of the environment in the district for the benefit of the community, through public awareness and outreach activities aimed at residents, organizations and businesses. I feel so lucky to have such an active one as the éco-quartier Peter-McGill constantly encourages residents downtown Montreal to explore gardening in our urban settings. For me, my balcony becomes my urban garden during the summer.

“Plants can help cool cities through the water that evaporates from their leaves when exposed to the sun’s rays, and by shading surfaces that otherwise might have absorbed heat,” writes Heather Alberro . She goes on with “research has found that on a sunny day, a single healthy tree can have the cooling power of more than ten air-conditioning units”. Whoa! Amazing!

So many reasons to embrace our parks and green spaces!

#climatechange #climatecrisis #greenspaces #parks

Article written by: Paula Bernardino, MCM, CSR-P, SCMP®